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Are humans born with a connection? The ‘still face’ experiment has answer to it

Published: 29th Nov 2021 2:51 pm

Hyderabad: Since the day of the baby’s birth, it is known there definitely is a palpable connection between the parents and the toddler. Testing that, the ‘still face’ experiment developed by American psychologist Edward Tronick in the late ’90s, tried to understand if the baby holds any reaction to the absent expressions of the parent.

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Having shared a video explaining the experiment, Edward through the study gives an insight of how parental expressions have a long term and ongoing effects on the baby’s functioning.

In the experiment, a baby and parent (in this case the mother) are seen sitting facing each other. In the first few minutes, the mother plays with her baby, smiles and talks to the baby. Here, we see that the baby is also responding to the mother and is happy. However, as the mother turns away and sports a ‘still face’ without any expressions for just two minutes, the baby gets confused and tries different ways to get her mother’s attention.

As her attempts to connect continue to be ignored by her mother, you see the infant starting to show distress and frustration. She begins crying and then screeching. Babies in this experiment often lose postural control. Their central nervous system becomes so overwhelmed that they physically collapse. This baby in the video also bites her own hand, which may be an attempt at self-comfort.

The baby dissolves emotionally and it can be uncomfortable to watch her distress. Towards the end of the experiment, the baby becomes withdrawn and hopeless, no longer attempting to get her mother’s attention.

However, in the ‘still face’ experiment, the mother returns to interacting with the baby in a short span, resulting in the baby becoming joyful again. The baby is quickly able to regulate its emotions once the mother is present again and play resumes easily.

Through the experiment, the psychologist wanted to emphasise that the still face is an example of the common everyday occurrences, which all parents experience where they need to finish cooking dinner or attend to another child. Having a non-responsive parent is not a problem if it occurs in short doses. However, if it occurs over longer periods it can have a detrimental impact on the baby’s development.

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